Space Station Gets Shielding, Not Blasters

Russian cosmonauts climbed out of the International Space Station on Wednesday afternoon to install protective panels. Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Oleg Kotov completed the planned work five hours later. The spacewalk was delayed due to problems encountered during communication checks. The 17 protective panels, each about 2 feet by 3 feet and weighing about 20 pounds, were delivered to the station last December.

The plan is for Kotov to retrieve three bundles of Service Module Debris Protection Panels and then attach them to the Zvezda Service Module. Zvezda provides some of the station's life support systems, as well as living quarters for two crewmen with a treadmill and a bicycle for exercise. A second spacewalk planned for June 6th will complete the installation.

(SMDP installation locations on Zvezda)

NASA engineers are concerned that space debris, in the form of everything from rocket parts to Chinese ASAT test debris to dropped wrenches, will damage the ISS. It will be possible to turn the ISS slightly to present a shield to oncoming debris, assuming that the object is big enough to be tracked.

(Zvezda under construction)

Science fiction writers have been working on protection for spacecraft for generations now, and frankly, nobody's interested in those passive bolt-on panels. To paraphrase Han Solo, panels are fine but they're "no match for a good blaster at your side."

In his 1945 classic First Contact, writer Murray Leinster puts his money on blasters as the best way to deal with any object large enough to damage your ship.

The blasters are those beams of ravening destruction which take care of recalcitrant meteorites in a ship's course when the deflectors can't handle them. They are not designed as weapons, but they can serve as pretty good ones. They can go into action at five thousand miles, and draw on the entire power output of a whole ship. With automatic aim and a traverse of five degrees, a ship like the Llanvabon can come very close to blasting a whole through a small-sized asteroid which gets in the way.
(Read more about meteor blasters)

I know it's a lot of extra work, but it gives you a better ride than those deflector shields that George Lucas suggests. If you didn't mind using a bit of propellant, you could try the solution that George O. Smith suggests in his 1943 story Recoil - meteor-spotting radar:

Spacecraft were protected from meteors by means of radar that was coupled to the steering panels of the ships; when a meteor threatened, the ship merely turned aside by that fraction of a degree that gave it safety.
(Read more about meteor-spotting radar)

But then, of course, you don't get to use your blasters.

Read about the origin of the sf term "blaster." Read more about the space walk at ISS Mission Update and NASA.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 5/30/2007)

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